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Presidential Race Controversy over Yucca Mountain


The U.S. economy and Iraq have been central issues in the presidential campaign this year but both candidates are taking positions even on local issues in an effort to sway voters.

One example is an environmental issue in the western state of Nevada. Opinion in that state is divided over the proposed construction of a nuclear waste storage facility.


VOA’s Brian Padden has more on what the candidates and voters have to say about a place called Yucca Mountain. On this night on the famed Las Vegas strip, known for lavish resorts, gambling and entertainment, something unusual is going on.

ACTIVIST
"Would you like information about nuclear waste coming to Nevada?"

Political activists are working the crowds. They are here seeking support to stop construction of a national nuclear waste facility just 144 kilometers north of the city.

PEGGY JOHNSON, DIRECTOR, CITIZENS ALERT
"This is not just a Nevada problem. This is an American problem."

Peggy Johnson is the protest organizer and director of Citizens Alert, an environmental activist group. She says a most people in Nevada already oppose the project because they believe the risk of leakage of deadly radioactive material is too great. They have passed State and local laws and have filed lawsuits to halt construction.

Yet work at the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste storage facility continues because the federal government has so far overruled state and local opposition. Peggy Johnson and other environmental advocates say transporting the radioactive material to the Nevada site will also put the entire nation at risk.

PEGGY JOHNSON, DIRECTOR, CITIZENS ALERT
"The transportation lines will be within a half-mile of over 50-million Americans. And we think that is a pretty scary idea to put the deadliest substance known to humankind on the roads, the railways and waterways of this country."

Supporters of the Yucca Mountain project, such as former Nevada Governor Robert List, who now represents the Nuclear Energy Institute on this issue, say the need for a central nuclear storage facility is greater than ever.

ROBERT LIST, FORMER NEVADA GOVERNOR
"The terrorist attack in New York sent a clear message that every city, every urban area, every facility can be vulnerable to attack by our enemies and having this material scattered around in over 30 states is not nearly as secure as collecting it in one location putting it a 1,000 feet deep underground in the middle of the desert next to an air force base. "

Former Governor List says nuclear waste is safely transported to other sites in the Unites States and around the world. He defends the project's safety record and desert location. He says the opposition's efforts have accomplished nothing except wasting millions of taxpayer dollars. And he says Nevada could make its concerns known and better benefit from this $60-billion project, by working with the federal government.

ROBERT LIST
"At some point you have to accept reality."

But the upcoming presidential election could change the reality. In this close race, Democratic candidate Senator John Kerry has come out strongly against the Yucca Mountain project.

SENATOR JOHN KERRY, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
"When I'm president of the United States, I'll tell you about Yucca Mountain; not on my watch! No!"

Republican President George Bush does not so much defend his support of the project as try to undermine Senator Kerry's credibility, by pointing out his opponent's past voting record in the United States Senate.

U.S. PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH
"He says he is strongly against Yucca here in Nevada but he voted for it several times."

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman says President Bush has his own credibility problems when it comes to the Yucca mountain project. The mayor says during the presidential campaign of 2000, then-Governor Bush left the impression that he too opposed the project.

OSCAR GOODMAN, LAS VEGAS MAYOR

"The President said that he was not going to allow certain things to happen unless they met the scientific standard. It has not met the scientific standard. It is still going forward. I think he is listening to the wrong people and the people of Nevada resent that."

Former Governor List says these confusing charges and counter charges are all just election year politics and the people know it.

ROBERT LIST, FORMER NEVADA GOVERNOR
"You ask people in Nevada if, 'You're against Yucca Mountain?,' 'Absolutely.' 'Do you think it's going to happen?' They say, 'Unfortunately, we think it's going to.' "

Both candidates are campaigning hard in Nevada because in a very close election, one state, one group, one issue could decide the next president of the United States.

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